As I was settling into my new office at Hathaway, Perrett, Webster, Powers, Chrisman & Gutierrez, my old former adversary and now new colleague, Alex Gutierrez , came into my office to welcome me. He was not the first. Everyone here has been so nice to this old warrior. Anyway, Alex and I spent some time catching up, and he also spent some time giving me the 411 on how things work around here. Toward the end of the conversation, he mentioned how he enjoyed my past President’s Messages and asked me how I came up with the topics. My only thought was: “Holy crap! I have another deadline for the September issue of CITATIONS.”
I know that the President’s Message is supposed to have some relationship to weighty issues relevant to Ventura County practitioners. In an earlier message, which I am sure you all read with great interest, I offered some reflections on the transition, perceptions and changes that brought me to Ventura County 13 years ago. This month, however, all I can offer are a few more reflections on the transitions, perceptions and changes that have shaped my own life over the past several months. So, please indulge me. I promise you, as I promised Alex, that future messages will return to more relevant issues of the day.
The first transition, as you know, is my transition from the Nordman firm to the Hathaway firm. What I discovered in the process was that the Ventura County legal community is very much like its own law firm. So many of you were kind enough to reach out to me and the other survivors of the sinking of the Nordman firm – all with genuine wishes for our future success as we went elsewhere, and many with offers of housing or more formal associations. As of this time, everyone – attorneys and staff – has ended up somewhere or has an offer to do so when the Nordman firm finally is wound down.
Having been a partner in a prior life in the largest law firm in the world, Baker & McKenzie, a firm with about four times the number of current members of the VCBA, I can attest that I feel closer to my “partners” here within the Ventura County legal community than I ever did with most of my partners at Baker & McKenzie. I again repeat that it is good to know that we still have here a sense of community that holds strong even as we are competitors and adversaries.
The second major transition in my life recently, and again I apologize for using this forum for such a personal reflection, was the passing of my father, Dr. Jerome S. Mark. He passed exactly 95 1/2 years to the date and hour of his birth. He had quite a run, and I know of no one who lived life more fully.
For 50 years, he was a practicing pediatrician in the San Fernando Valley. He was a consummate professional, he was an expert diagnostician, and he had an exceptional bedside manner. As someone once related to me: “Your dad was ‘mellow’ before anyone knew what the meant.” Frankly, I think his love of the profession was directed far more to the mothers than to the patients. That was Pop.
I remember the time he retired. A letter was sent out to his patients about it. I recall taking my daughter’s soccer team to an after-game pizza lunch and overhearing two women in the booth behind me lamenting about the retirement of Dr. Mark and how they were so concerned that they would never find another pediatrician as good as my dad.
As good a physician as my father was, however, he was a challenge as a parent. His father died when my dad was five, and his mother had severe health issues. By all accounts, she was not much of a parent either. So my dad had to make up parenting as he went along, especially after my Mom passed when I was just 14.
I would say he got it right about 85 percent of the time. Other times, however, as I got older, we would get into it. A number of those conversations would end with him extending his middle finger and walking out of the room. I came to understand that it was not a mean or obscene gesture. It was just his way of telling me: “Ok, kid, I admit you are right, but I still am the father and I still get the final word.”
On the day he passed, I got the call that he had been put on life support, and they wanted a family member to come down to the hospital in Santa Monica. Leslie and I raced down there, probably breaking several traffic laws in the process. When we arrived, it was clear that he no longer was cognitive. The doctor told me that he probably had had a massive stroke or heart attack, but that he was functionallygone with no hope of recover.
Ever the lawyer, looking for any loophole, I asked repeatedly: “Are you sure? Is there nothing else that can be done?” After much persistence along that vein, the doctor finally lost patience with me and told me that he was so sorry, but that my dad really was functionally deceased. I finally gave the doctor permission to give the order to remove life support.
As Leslie and I stood by his bedside, she looked down at his left hand and exclaimed: “Look!” As he had slipped away, his left hand had curled up into a soft fist, except that his middle finder was extended as straight as could be.
“Well, Old Man,” I thought, “You got the final last word again one more time after all.”
What does my dad’s passing have to do with the Ventura County legal community? All I know is that, when I first joined the Nordman Firm, Jon Light included me in a panel presentation on employment law. When Jon introduced me, he began by explaining: “Joel’s father saw me naked.” Jon had been a patient of my dad’s. So, I guess the old man did have at least some influence within the Ventura County legal community, if only with regard to the care and well-being of Jon Light’s rear end.
Finally, I want to thank everyone in our legal community who was aware of both of these personal transitions and who reached out and offered support to me as I have gone through them. I appreciate that support so very much. Thank you.
Joel Mark is of counsel to Hathaway, Perrett, Webster, Powers, Chrisman & Gutierrez in Ventura. He is happy to be managing nothing anymore, except for his duties as President of the Ventura County Bar Association. He thanks all of his colleagues for their well wishes regarding the transitions about which this message is written.